OUT WEST ROUNDUP | Feds probe dwindling bumblebee population; New Mexico high court eyes dining ban | Quick Hits


Dramatic decline found in bumblebee populations

SALT LAKE CITY — A federal review of existing data unveils an alarming trend for the western bumblebee population, which has seen its numbers dwindle by as much as 93% in the last two decades.

The find by the U.S. Geological Survey will help inform a species status assessment to begin this fall by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which may ultimately add the insect to its endangered species list.

Tabitha Graves, senior author of the study and a research ecologist with the survey, said the trend with the western bumblebee documented between 1998 and 2018 is troubling because of their important role as pollinators.

Bumblebees also pollinate plants in the wild, such as huckleberries which are a staple food source for bears.

There are multiple factors at play that are contributing to the demise of the bumblebee, including pesticides, habitat fragmentation, a warming climate and pathogens, researchers say.

There are concerns that other species of bumblebees used in commercial pollination are spreading pathogens to the western bumblebee, said Diana Cox-Foster, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Pollinating Insects Research Unit at Utah State University, who added that the decline has been noticed since the 1990s.

Graves said the research doesn’t point to one conclusive cause for the decline, which will be the focus of another research effort to better quantify particular threats.

Residents can get in on the action by downloading an app at and documenting what bumblebees they may come across. There have been an estimated 14,000 submissions from all 49 states where bumblebees occur.

Cox-Foster also added that people can plant bee friendly vegetation to encourage their presence around homes.


State court eyes ban on indoor restaurant dining

SANTA FE — The state Supreme Court announced July 20 it will weigh a challenge to New Mexico’s prohibition on indoor service at restaurants and breweries, as the administration of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham defends its public health orders from a restive restaurant industry.

Lujan Grisham in July reinstated a prohibition on indoor dining service based on surging COVID-19 infections and concerns that gathering without face masks to eat can increase risks of transmitting the disease. Face masks are mandated by the state in all public settings, amid prohibitions on most public gatherings of more than four people.

The state Supreme Court stepped into the fray hours after a state district court judge in southern New Mexico suspended the indoor dining ban pending court hearings. Instead, the Supreme Court ordered direct briefings from restaurants and the governor’s office.

Lujan Grisham spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said restaurants present distinct risks and urged people to abide by the ban on indoor service.

Carol Wight, CEO of the New Mexico Restaurant Association, said the dire warnings are not borne out by the state’s own rapid response investigations into coronavirus outbreaks — that indicate greater problems in other industries.

Court filings by a group of restaurant owners and the association allege that indoor dining restrictions are unwarranted and discriminatory because gyms, hair salons and churches continue to operate indoors.

Several restaurants have continued to provide indoor service in open defiance of state health orders. Food service permits were suspended last week at seven restaurants in Farmington, Hobbs and Carlsbad that declined to halt dine-in service that regulators describe as a “substantial danger” to customers.

In court filings, restaurant representatives have said the industry accounts for eight COVID-19 investigations out of more than 440 in the state. Employment in the state’s restaurant sector has plunged from about 82,000 to 50,000, the lawsuit said.

Troubled sheriff’s office to get ‘superhero’ tool

ALBUQUERQUE — A New Mexico sheriff, whose office is plagued by racial profiling lawsuits, said deputies will be outfitted with new superhero-style restraining devices but not body cameras.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office is giving 20 deputies a BolaWrap — a handheld device that shoots a Kevlar wire, which wraps around a fleeing suspect several times and restricts movement. Supporters of the device say it’s a tool that looks like something Batman would use to take down villains.

The company that makes the BolaWrap shooter, Wrap Technologies, markets it as a way to improve officer safety. Each device costs about $1,000, according to the company’s website.

The move comes as Sheriff Manuel Gonzales says he can’t afford to purchase body cameras for his deputies as now required by state law. Gonzales drew ridicule recently after he announced he was looking to allow deputies to put smartphones in their vests and record video instead of purchasing body cameras.

Gonzales has faced criticism before for refusing to force deputies to wear body cams amid a string of deputy shootings.

Two Black women from Wisconsin are suing the sheriff and two deputies, alleging racial and religious profiling stemming from a traffic stop in July 2017.


Police: Fire at Arizona Democratic headquarters was arson

PHOENIX — A late-night fire that destroyed part of the Arizona and Maricopa County Democratic Party headquarters was an act of arson, authorities said July 24.

Investigators were gathering surveillance video from nearby buildings after combing the wreckage and concluding the fire was human-caused, authorities said. Nobody was hurt.

Police Sgt. Mercedes Fortune declined to reveal what evidence convinced investigators the blaze was set, saying she doesn’t want to tip off the perpetrator.

The building, a few miles north of downtown Phoenix, is the longtime home for both the state and county Democrats. The northern portion of the building, which houses the operations for Maricopa County Democrats, was totally destroyed, said Steven Slugocki, the county chair. Damage was less extensive in the state party’s portion of the building, he said.

The fire destroyed computers, tablets, phone-banking equipment, campaign literature and years of candidate and organizing information, Slugocki said. It also burned political memorabilia accumulated over decades, including campaign materials for John F. Kennedy, he said. He requested donations to help the party replace the tools it uses to mobilize voters.

Slugocki and state Democratic Chair Felecia Rotellini said employees have been mostly working remotely since March.

Arizona Republican Chair Kelli Ward condemned the act, saying violence is unacceptable.


Dog makes 50-mile trek to her old home

A dog named Cleo who disappeared from her home in Kansas earlier in July turned up a few days later at her old home in Missouri, about 50 miles away.

Missing Dog-Old Home

This video frame grab provided by KMBC-TV in Kansas City, Mo., shows Cleo, a 4-year-old Labrador retriever-border collie mix who disappeared from her home in Kansas earlier in July 2020, and turned up a few days later at her old home in Missouri, about 50 miles away.

Colton Michael told television station KMBC that the 4-year-old Labrador retriever-border collie mix showed up on the front porch of his family’s home in Lawson, which is about 30 miles northeast of Kansas City.

At first, she wouldn’t let anyone get near her, said Michael, who has lived in the home for nearly two years.

“She finds her way home, and there’s some strangers living in it. That would be scary for anybody,” he said.

Eventually, he was able to gain Cleo’s trust and to get her checked for a microchip, which showed that she belonged to the former owners of his house.

Cleo’s owners, who had moved to Olathe, Kansas, about 50 miles southwest of Lawson, couldn’t believe it when Michael called and said the dog had turned up at their old home. They had posted on Facebook a week earlier about the missing dog. Neither family knows how Cleo made the trip, which would have required her to cross at least one river.

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